The Synthetic Bestiary – Synthetic Biology, Genetic Engineering, and The Future

Rat Minds Connected Over the Internet

Rat Brain Merge

The brains of two rats on different continents have been made to act in tandem. When the first, in Brazil, uses its whiskers to choose between two stimuli, an implant records its brain activity and signals to a similar device in the brain of a rat in the United States. The US rat then usually makes the same choice on the same task.

Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says that this system allows one rat to use the senses of another, incorporating information from its far-away partner into its own representation of the world. “It’s not telepathy. It’s not the Borg,” he says. “But we created a new central nervous system made of two brains.”

Read more at Nature magazine. And check out a video of the rats after the break.

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Darwin Tunes: Evolving Music

Darwin Tunes isn’t new, its been around since 2009 – but its been steadily growing in popularity. Darwin Tunes is based on a simple premise – can we evolve music? In order to do this they use an evolutionary algorithm which uses human ratings as a means to judge short sound clips. Higher rated sound clips get to breed and effect the next generation, while unappealing clips die and are excluded from breeding. The awesome thing about the project is that it works – and quite well. It won’t be competing with human artists yet, but its very clearly music.  Evolutionary algorithms hold great promise for design in general, but their application in areas such as aestheticism is currently under-explored – Darwin Tunes is making great progress in fixing that.

Check out Darwin Tunes to hear some of their clips and get involved yourself! You can also read their recent PNAS paper here.

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Building Artificial Neurons

Taking us one step closer to cybernetic brains, a research group has been able to create an artificial synapse (the connections between neurons in our brains). This device should be able to mimic the major features of human memory and can be interfaced with natural neurons. This leads to the possibility of cyborg/augmented brains which contains both natural and electronic parts. Alternatively it could eventually be used for the long coveted ideal of brain uploading. Read more at Machines Like Us.

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Curiosity Lands on Mars! Synthetic Biology Implications

The Mars Space Laboratory (MSL), otherwise known as Curiosity – is a large car-sized rover, which today successfully landed on mars. To have landed was a monumental task and an amazing achievement. The picture above is the second one we received from the craft, showing its shadow on Mars – confirming its successful landing. Now the rover is ready to begin its long mission to find out a huge number of things about Mars, including looking for signs of life.

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Robot Moves Using Mechanical ‘Tentacles’

Japanese engineers have created a robot which can move around by shuffling and summersaulting using mechanical “tentacles”. The robot is called the ‘Metallic Vaio 2012’ and was custom built by Morinaga-san. This is a great example of biology inspiring robotics – taking it to new heights. Check out the video of this robot moving around after the break.

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